Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died at the age of 79. For nearly 30 years, Scalia was the leading conservative voice on the bench, known, among other things, for his opposition to the Voting Rights Act and gay rights and his support for gun rights. He died Saturday at a hunting resort in West Texas. President Obama, who has 11 months remaining in his term, said he will nominate someone to fill the empty seat.
President Barack Obama: “I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time. There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote. These are responsibilities that I take seriously, as should everyone. They’re bigger than any one party. They are about our democracy.”
Senate Republicans are vowing to block President Obama from filling Scalia’s Supreme Court seat. The next justice could tilt the balance of the Supreme Court, which has been left with four conservatives and four liberals. The vacancy could have an immediate impact on how the now eight-person court will rule in several key cases, including a major abortion case just two weeks away. We’ll have more on the impact of Scalia’s death after headlines.
In Afghanistan, the number of civilians killed or injured has risen to a record high for the seventh year in a row. The United Nations says more than 3,500 civilians were killed and more than 7,400 wounded last year, an increase of 4 percent over the year before. Danielle Bell, director of the U.N. human rights program, outlined the findings.
Danielle Bell: “The overall 4 percent increase resulted mainly from a rise in suicide and complex attacks carried out in Kabul city, as well as the Taliban offensive in Kunduz last year. In most parts of Afghanistan in 2015, civilian casualties decreased. Of the 11,002 civilian casualties, one in 10 was a woman, and one in four was a child. Women casualties increased by 37 percent, while child casualties increased by 14 percent.”
The report came as Taliban suicide bombers using Humvees captured from the Afghan army attacked a checkpoint in Helmand province, killing six members of the security forces.
In Syria, airstrikes have hit two separate hospitals. Doctors Without Borders says at least seven people were killed and eight staff are missing after a facility it supports in Idlib province was repeatedly bombed. Separately, a missile reportedly hit a children’s hospital in the rebel-held town of Azaz, killing 10 people and wounding more than 30. Both Russia and the Syrian government are conducting strikes in the area. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has deployed warplanes to an airbase in Turkey and repeated its offer to send ground troops into Syria for the fight against ISIL. Meanwhile, up to 40,000 refugees fleeing violence have settled in camps along the Turkish border inside Syria.
A new tally from the United Nations finds more than 80,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe by boat so far this year alone. More people arrived in the first six weeks of this year than the first four months of last year. Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said more than 400 have died trying to cross.
Melissa Fleming: “Also to note, we continue to say this is a refugee crisis because, according to our profiling and the statistics we receive from the Greek government, over 91 percent of those arriving in Greece come from the world’s 10 top refugee-producing countries, and the top nationalities are coming from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Saudi Arabia’s offer to send ground troops into Syria comes as the U.S. ally faces closer scrutiny over its bombing campaign in Yemen. On Saturday night, a Saudi-led airstrike hit a sewing factory and electronics warehouse in the Yemeni capital Sana’a, reportedly killing 18 people, including a 13-year-old boy. Human Rights Watch has released new evidence the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition is using internationally banned cluster munitions supplied by the United States. Cluster bombs are designed to fan out over a wide area, and their submunitions often fail to explode, posing a massive risk to civilians.
The Associated Press is reporting four American journalists have been arrested in Bahrain while covering protests surrounding the fifth anniversary of the Gulf nation’s pro-democracy uprising. The 2011 protests by Bahrain’s Shiite majority against the Sunni-led monarchy were among the largest seen during the Arab Spring, but they were crushed with the help of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain is a close U.S. ally, home to the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Pope Francis took aim at drug cartels and Mexico’s corrupt elite during a visit to one of the cities most impacted by the U.S.-backed drug war. North of Mexico City, Ecatepec has one of the highest murder rates in Mexico and is particularly known for the unsolved murders of scores of women. Montserrat Correa, a student from the city, was among those who watched the pope’s mass.
Montserrat Correa: “There is a high level of crime, so many assassinations. The dangers we live with daily, as women, it’s very difficult in this country, in this state. Anywhere, we fear that something will happen to us. And our families are always worried that something could happen to us and we won’t return home.”
Before heading to Mexico, the pope stopped in Havana, Cuba, where he held a historic meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill. It was the first meeting between a pope and the head of the Russian church since the two branches of Christianity split in the 11th century.
Meanwhile, in other news of healing ties, Cuba and the United States are expected to seal an agreement this week to resume scheduled commercial flights between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years.
Haitian lawmakers have chosen an opposition senator to serve as interim president for 120 days after disputed elections left the country without a president. Former Parliament head Jocelerme Privert served as interior minister under former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted in 2004 in a U.S.-backed coup.
And in other news from Haiti, Patrick Elie, longtime pro-democracy activist and Haiti’s former secretary of state for public security under Aristide, has died at the age of 66. In 2011, he spoke to Democracy Now! from Port-au-Prince on the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake.
Patrick Elie: “So, it’s going to take time, but I do believe that the earthquake is also a signal for us to build Haitian democracy on sound foundations, which means the neighborhood committees, the grassroot organization, instead of trying to build a democracy from the top down. That’s how we built our houses in Port-au-Prince, and you saw what happened.”
Patrick Elie died of internal bleeding at a hospital in Port-au-Prince on Friday. He was 66.